If it's antiques you're after, this Waikato town's a treasure hunter's dream, writes Joanna Mathers.
Two grinning kids stand beneath an oversized L&P bottle. Their dad crouches in front of them, takes aim with the camera, and clicks. It's a classic Paeroa moment; images such as this grace the pages of photo albums throughout Aotearoa, commemorations of our enduring love for this iconic Kiwi drink.
Paeroa is so closely associated with that bottle that its other attractions are often overlooked. Most of us will have buzzed through the town on our way north or south at some stage; maybe stopping for a $2 ginger slice at a local cafe, or placating hungry kids with food from the drive-through.
But this town is much more than a big bottle and rest stops — it's also billed itself as the Antique Town of New Zealand.
My mum and I are visiting on an unseasonably warm day just after Easter. We both love antiques and have always wanted to browse Paeroa's shops, so decided to make a journey down the line.
The drive from Auckland is quick and drama free, and we arrive mid-morning with plenty of time to explore.
First stop on our antiques trawl is Granvilles Antiques. This is the first of the antiques stores in a strip that runs along the main road from Corbett St to Hall St. Owner Leonie Mason is the new kid on this block, having owned the store for just a year. She tells me that the town's antique industry is thriving, and loves how Paeroa has become a real destination for antiques aficionados.
"Some weekends we get up to 200 people a day coming through the store. It's [the antiques trade] so great for our town," she says.
She says that Crown Lynn is still a firm favourite with collectors, and hopes to further develop her collection of this Kiwi crockery.
Having spent some time browsing Granvilles' delights, we decide it's time to move on. Past the New and Used Books shop (which looked tantalising, but its antiques we're here for) we encounter a wide doorway revealing a cavernous space packed with treasures. A sign outside tells us this is The Depot, and we enter with a sense of anticipation.
This Aladdin's cave of delights turns out to be an antiques co-op, owned by Vicky, a Paeroa furniture restorer. The Depot is housed in what used to be the old Paeroa bus depot (hence the name); the high ceilings, and pared down brick walls evidence of its previous incarnation.
The store's been acting as a co-op for around two years, with 17 store-holders from around the area selling their wares in dedicated spaces throughout. Vicky's beautifully restored wooden pieces are on display at the back of the store; other sellers offer everything from old furs to antique tools.
It's a vast place that would take hours to explore, presided over by the resident cat, a 15-year-old puss called Moggy.
Vicky tells me that one of the store-holders, Viv, is the owner of Arkwrights, the longest running antique store in town. It's just a few metres down the road on the corner of Hall St. I've been there before, and bought a lovely art glass bowl, so Mum and I are keen to pay another visit.
Locally known as "the mayor of Paeroa", owner Vivienne Leonard is a real character. She turns out to be the woman responsible for Paeroa's "Antique Town of New Zealand" status ("I put up the sign," she laughs) and has lived in Paeroa her entire life.
Arkwrights has been running for 18 years and Viv's loved every minute of it. She's been a collector since she was a kid, and fell in love with antiques after her grandmother gave her a beautiful kauri dresser as a wedding gift.
The store has a great range of depression glass and crockery, which I eye up eagerly. She tells me that since the resurgence of high tea, many people have been purchasing cup, plates and saucers sets.
All this talk of food is making us hungry, so Mum and I stop only briefly at a few more stores before heading to Te Aroha for a toastie and cuppa at the tea rooms on the hillside. It's been an interesting trip, and we'll definitely be back — for a high tea set and some Crown Lynn.
Getting there: Paeroa is an easy 90-minute drive from Auckland. Take State Highway 1 to exit 477 (which leads to State Highway 2) and follow the road south to Paeroa.
Where to stay: There is a range of accommodation options available, including Racecourse Motel. There are also a number of self-catering holiday homes and B&Bs.
Antiques shops: The main antiques store strip starts at Granvilles (on the corner of Belmont Rd and Corbett St) and runs the length of the block to Arkwrights (corner of Belmont Rd and Hall St). There are a number of other antique stores, including Antiques on Main (5 Willoughby St), Time Traveller (15 Belmont St), Yesterday and Today (64 Belmont St), and Vintage and Retro (9a Belmont St).